label r shifted
Session C4
Poetics under the Quest for Identity in Hou Hsiao-Hsien's“The Puppetmaster”
池思親 Vivian Szu-Chin Chih
Department of Literature, University of California, San Diego, USA

In my paper, I plan to investigate the cinematic poetics in Hou Hsiao-Hsien's “The Puppetmaster” (1993), and discuss how these manifestations of visual and audial poetics, including Hou's distinguished long-takes and elliptical shots, performances of Taiwanese poetry and opera in the film, and the film editor Liao Ching-Song's (廖慶松) self-claimed "Yun-Kuai editing method” (「雲塊剪接法」), are designed technically, aesthetically, as well as philosophically to represent the quest for identity of the Taiwanese during the Japanese colonial era.

“The Puppetmaster” is the second of Hou's“Taiwan Trilogy” that deals with Taiwan's historical, cultural, and political backgrounds since the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Using the anecdotal autobiography of the Taiwanese puppet master Li Tian-Lu (李天祿) as its main narrative line, Hou presents the life story of this important Taiwanese cultural figure through interweaving the recitation of Chinese poetry in Taiwanese, vignettes of Taiwanese opera, film episodes, and Li's own orally narrated recollections in “The Puppetmaster.”

Much has been discussed regarding the historical and political aspects that “The Puppetmaster” alludes to. Yet, few academic papers have investigated the construction of its visual and audial poetics, and how this aesthetic approach of cinematic poetics can be related to the examination of the Taiwanese's quest for identity in the film during the Japanese colonial period. The paper, therefore, seeks to fill this gap of the academic dialogues dedicated to “The Puppetmaster.” Through examining Hou's image construction and Liao's “Yun-Kuai editing method” in "The Puppetmaster," this paper aims to continue the exploration of Liao's poetic editing style extended from the “Qi-Yun editing method” (「氣韻剪接法」) that the editor exerted to edit A City of Sadness (1989). According to Liao, the High Tang poet Du Fu's poetry had inspired him to invent “Qi-Yun editing method” for the editing of Hou's nonlinear shots in A City of Sadness. How, then, may we connect the poetics of the more local and grassroots Taiwanese opera and puppetry in “The Puppetmaster,” to the arrangement of Liao's “Yun-Kuai editing method”?

In other words, this paper hopes to investigate how the poetic form of “The Puppetmaster” has influenced its content. That is, how the quest for national identity and subjectivity of the Taiwanese during the colonial era has been represented through the cinematic poetics in the film. Is the aesthetic discourse of cinematic poetics contradictory or complementary to the grand narrative of history? How are the precious cultural assets of Taiwanese opera and puppetry preserved and remembered in the film, through its poetic manifestation? I will begin from analyzing the technical aspects of the film, and move on to discuss how the cinematic poetics in “The Puppetmaster” are employed to reflect and represent the quest of the Taiwanese for their national identity since the end of the first Sino-Japanese War in 1895.